Some days I ask myself the same question over and over and over and over again – am I strong enough to ride a horse like Ike? Ike can be light as a feather for a few strides, and then moments later, I feel like I’m running around the arena with a 50-pound bag of feed in my arms.
I struggle to maintain my position in the saddle. I squeeze my fingers until they ache. My arm muscles cramp. My abdominal muscles jiggle from the effort. We down transition and halt. Ike then tries to yank the reins from my tired fingers. I don’t let go. He sighs, I sigh, I ask him to soften in my hands and we try it all over again. Am I alone in this struggle or does anyone else feel this way?
Even during my weekly lesson with Ms. C with her giving me almost constant instruction and guidance, getting Ike through and using his back is hard. It isn’t that he is being naughty, he just still doesn’t always understand. We also think that he hasn’t developed the strength or stamina to maintain a rock steady connection. His hulking body, while not as gangly as it was this time last year, is still not fully developed. Ike is starting to “blossom,” but we still have some time before he is done filling out. Heaven help me once he does…more muscle to use against me. I’m not sure I can carry a heavier bag of feed.
For the first half of my weekly lesson no matter what gait we were riding, it felt like I was riding two different horses with me in the middle trying to make them work as a team. Ike’s front end was rolling along at one rhythm and his hind end was dancing to a different tune. I worried that it would make the ride to music clinic challenging.
My local dressage chapter hosted Michael Matson. He is a well-known clinician in this area known for helping riders with musical freestyle music selection. He helps you determine your beats per minute at each of the gaits and then helps select music to enhance them. Sounds easy enough, but when you have two different rhythms, how do you pick which one to use for the musical selection?? I jest here. I am well aware that you can’t. It should make for an interesting clinic. We could very well be the first rider and horse pair to come away from the clinic with no music. “I’m sorry, but you would be better off riding to a baby banging on some pots and pans.” Bet that would elicit some interesting comments from the judges.
I arrived at the barn early since someone decided to take a mud bath the day before the clinic and was too wet and icky to scrub clean. Great, I love chipping caked on mud out of a winter coat first thing in the morning. Thank goodness that the luck of the Irish was on my side, because Ike managed to remove most of the mud himself. He had obviously rolled in his fresh sawdust overnight and those lovely chips of wood did a bang up job at removing most of the funk. After a brief grooming session, we decided to load up early so that we could watch my two friends ride and select their music. Ike had other ideas, “No, I do not wish to leave the farm today and you can’t make me get on the trailer.”
That is right, someone showed off his mule genes for almost 45 minutes. I had to dig deep into the recesses of my memory to remember all the lessons that Mr. Revelle taught us last year: do not back away or walk away from the trailer, use the stud chain appropriately, reward any effort, say “load up” as you lightly tap the hind end with the whip (note to self – purchase a longer piaffe whip or have arms stretched to reach the go button on the back-end), remind Ike that the only correct answer is to get on the trailer…. I seriously thought that we weren’t going to make it on time if at all. Finally, Ike sighed and calmly walked on. Huh? Why all the fuss??? He would not share his rationale.
Made it in time to see one of my friends ride and select their music. It is a fascinating process. Mr. Matson first establishes your beats per minute at the walk, trot, and canter. He then looks through his 1400+ musical selections and finds music with the correct beat. The music is played. Both the rider and the audience give feedback. No, just not right. Yes, that works. No, that overpowers the horse. The selections are narrowed and the rider gets the ultimate say. Amazingly, you could tell when the rider and horse liked the music – things flowed easily and beautifully.
Then it was our turn. I let Mr. Matson know that Ike was young at that we were not always consistent with our rhythm and tempo. He said not to worry, we would have music. I’m still thinking that we will get Pan Banging Baby music. So after our warm up, he had us ride on a circle around him while he used his electronic metronome to establish our beats per minute. Beep, beep, beep. Okay, time to pick music.
First up, the trot. Amazingly enough, the first piece worked and worked well. Was that really that easy? Yes, yes it was. Turns out, Ike likes swing music. Hmm, I also had a steady, well connected horse with the music playing. We tried a few other pieces, but the first one was spot on. The walk was next and finally the canter. I have to say, I love our canter music. All three pieces are swing – I guess it is in keeping with his namesake, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was a five-star general during the 1940s when swing music became prominent. Maybe I just need to play this music during every lesson?! My mother suggested an ipod and earbuds for Ike.
So we came home with our music, now comes the hard part for this non-musical person – editing the pieces and creating the musical freestyle that meets the USDF requirements as well as our limited Training Level abilities. Stay tuned!
p.s. Big man walked right on the trailer to go home. Good thing, I don’t think I had enough energy for another epic battle.